It’s time again for the Chicago Fire Premier, the club’s entry into the USL Premier Development League, to kickoff yet another campaign. As they take the field for their 2012 debut Tuesday night, circumstances from the past will be quite different.
Following the U.S. Soccer Federation’s sweeping changes to the format of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the Fire Premier will be put in the precarious position of kicking of their 2012 season in the nation’s oldest knockout competition Tuesday before even playing a game in their PDL season.
Led by second-year head coach Mark Spooner, the team will begin its quest to match their standing as the furthest advancing amateur side in the 2011 edition of the tournament as they welcome Milwaukee-based Croatian Eagles (USASA) to the Toyota Park Practice Field Tuesday night at 6pm CT (Follow @ChiFireMatch). The match is free and open to the public.
An amateur men’s side, the Croatian Eagles navigated through the Wisconsin state tournament before qualifying for the Open Cup a month ago, downing Illinois-based clubs RWB Adria (April 14) and AAC Eagles (April 15) by matching 2-0 score lines at the Region II tournament in Bensenville, Ill.
“I’ll be honest and say we don’t know much about the Croatian Eagles,” Spooner said of Tuesday’s opponents. “I expect them to be full of ex-pros and good players. They’ve had a few pressure games already so with that, we expect a tough game tomorrow night.”
While the Milwaukee-based side has already strung a few important matches together, Spooner’s team has only just assembled following the college spring semester.
“I think we definitely could have done with an extra couple of days of training,” Spooner admitted Monday. “The standard has gotten better each day. Hopefully we’ll be ready tomorrow night to come out and play at a level that’s going to have to be required to win the game.”
Perhaps helping the team for Tuesday night’s clash will be the source of the second change in circumstance from past PDL seasons. With the Fire Premier previously known best as a proving ground for “almost there” professional talent from around the country, the club’s Player Development department shifted the goals of the PDL side beginning this year.
The Mission: Further develop talent that has already come through the Fire system.
So instead of seeing a number of players coming in from all over the country, Tuesday’s squad will feature a majority of Academy alumni who will one day hope to step into the first team.
One of those players is Patrick Doody (pictured right). Slated to start at left back Tuesday night, Doody was a part of the 2010 Fire U-16 Academy National Championship squad and was one of a number of players that went straight from the Academy season last year into playing for the Fire Premier in the second half of the 2011 PDL campaign.
Having just finished his freshman season at Indiana University, Doody is thankful to have steppe into the PDL side as an 18-year-old and credits it for being more prepared for Tuesday night’s clash.
“It helped a ton,” he said. “The Academy is awesome and has set me up for so many different things with college and PDL. Just the competition at the PDL level – the speed of play especially is something new to get used to. I played enough games with the team at the end of last season to come in this year and feel comfortable going into a game like tomorrow’s.”
With little time to prepare for the match, he also believes the Fire Premier’s shift to focusing on Homegrown players will be helpful in the face of only four days of preparation.
“Our roster last year was awesome with a bunch of great talent coming from all over the country but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like playing with the guys that I’ve been with since I was a little kid,” he said. “We all know how to play with each other, even when we go out to different schools and come back. Everybody likes to play and I think that chemistry will help us a lot. “We’re all excited. We don’t know much about the team but we feel if we play the way we know we can play, that’s all we’ll need.”